Handbook Against Hate
Local Holocaust curriculum reaches students worldwide.
HARRY KIRS BAUM
o those who deny the Holocaust or say
that no lessons can be learned from it, a
locally written high school curriculum
has taught otherwise to 200,000 high
school students around the world.
It took four years to complete Life Unworthy of
Life written by Sidney Bolkosky, a professor of his-
tory at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and
Betty Rotberg Ellias, then a teacher at Southfield-
Lathrup High School.
David Harris, former social studies coordinator
with the Oakland Schools, joined for the third
year of the project, completed in 1988.
The all-inclusive 18-lesson curriculum consists
of 30 student manuals, a five-part videotape and a
cross-indexed teacher's guide. The course can be
narrowed down to 11 or even five major lessons,
depending on the amount of time a teacher
devotes to the topic, Bolkosky said.
The curriculum is designed to make a lasting
impression on high school students through inter-
active discussions and activities. As the last genera-
tion of survivors ages and passes away, this cur-
riculum will stand as a testament in the schools
and educate further generations.
Students learn not only history lessons about the
Nazis' rise to power and the "Final Solution," but
also answers to common questions such as why the
Jews didn't fight back.
In the lesson called "Planet Auschwitz," a video
provides survivor testimony on day-to-day life in
Auschwitz. To get a taste of what that life was like,
students tally their daily caloric intake in a log-
book and then compare it with the meager rations
of a typical survivor.
After a class reading, which describes a camp
doctor on trial after the war, discussion topics
include the Hippocratic Oath, moral principles
and German law.
Quizzes, a final test and an essay also are part of
The top essays are submitted to the Michigan
Holocaust Education Coalition for review. The
essay winner is invited to read his or her- essay dur-
ing the annual Holocaust commemoration service
held in the State Capitol rotunda in Lansing.
Life Unworthy of Life got its start when Bolkosky
and Ellias met as volunteers on a Holocaust educa-
tion subcommittee of the Jewish Community
Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
Bolkosky, the principal writer and video produc-
er, said Ellias and Harris assisted in making the
Curriculum trials were first done locally, then
after minor tweaking, Life Unworthy of Life quick-
ly began to spread when a U.S. Department of
Education program called the National Diffusion
Network (NDN) offered some help. NDN started
to spread innovative educational programs
throughout the country. The programs were cho-
sen through a rigorous selection process and sup-
ported by a person-to-person support system in
each state to assist teachers.
Peter Nagourney coordinated the program.
The curriculum took off until the mid-1990s
when the Congress led by Newt Gingrich cut the
funding, he said.
"They de-funded the NDN, ending our ability
to conduct services for teachers and it ended the
support system of a coordinator in each state to
help set up these trainings," said Nagourney of
He still answers questions about the program,
but he has been unable to schedule any monetary
Ellias said there is enough money saved up from
previous fund-raising efforts to give the curricu-
lum to school districts that can't afford the $350
cost. The marketing of the program also has
changed to word of mouth, she said.
It seems to have worked.
The curriculum is still being taught in every
state as well as Canada, New Zealand, Singapore,
Aruba, India, Italy, Hungary, Japan and Israel.
When a Holocaust denier showed up in 2001 in
New Brunswick, Canada, Holocaust education
became mandated and Life Unworthy of Life was
translated into French, said Bolkosky, who traveled
there to train the teachers.
No changes have been made since the begin-
ning. "The history stays the same; the curriculum,
itself, we feel is one of the best," said Ellias.
."There's really not a way to tweak it."
The International Academy in Bloomfield Hills
and the Farmington Public Schools have been the
most recent to sign on to the Life Unworthy of Life
Nagourney said that regardless of the word-of-
mouth promotion, he isn't surprised at the spread
of the program. "Sid and his co-authors did a fab-
ulous job," he said. "The video he created is a
superb pedagogic tool, and it's not surprising that
people would find out about it."
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is
Monday, April 19. More'events: pages 14, 16
Student Opinion, page 30. Books, page 48. Also